Have you ever dreamed you were flying? Defying gravity feels normal while you’re dreaming. Normal but wonderful. There is a sense of freedom from the relentless downward pull of life. A sense of adventure as you zoom and soar.
When we wake from that kind of dream, we lie there, wanting to capture it. Defying gravity, wow. What a feeling. Seeing everything from a new perspective. For a brief moment we feel light, hopeful.
But the dream fades quickly, along with its insights of hope. We step out of bed and feel weighted to the floor. Suddenly heavy with responsibilities, we pour coffee or tea and check our calendar. We pick up our Bible from the last place we left it and put it on the counter next to our steaming mug. The dog barks to be let out.
Turning quickly, our elbow knocks books and beverage to the floor.
Gravity. What goes up must come down. That’s the reality we live in.
But Jesus’ Ascension turns that reality upside down. Defying gravity is the story of his life. With Jesus, what comes down must go up.
With Jesus, what comes down must go up.
Jesus Came Down To Be With Us
When we board a flight, we are reminded of the power it takes to leave the ground. We buckle in and listen as the wheels rattle and powerful jets accelerate our trip down the airstrip. Noise and fuel are needed for lift off. Our ascent feels slow and hard. Only as we reach our cruising altitude do we level off and feel the freedom of flight.
Defying gravity is arduous.
Later as our flight begins its descent, the fasten seat belt sign lights up. Flight attendants collect any remaining trash and remind us to put our seat backs up and stow our luggage. We are preparing for gravity to take over our lives again.
When Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he entered our gravitational pull. He came down from heaven. Uniting himself to us in Mary’s womb, he entered our timeline. The bookends of our timeline are birth and death. The bookends of Jesus’ timeline are descent and ascent. He came down in order to be born.
The underlying question of both timelines is why?
Why were we born? We had no choice in the matter. Our conception was in the hands of others. Why was Jesus born? The answer didn’t rest in his parents’ choice, but in the will of God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we say Jesus’ birth was God’s will, we are also saying that the Son came down willingly.
Why would he do that? Why would Jesus willingly come down to us? Take on a body and be weighted to the earth?
Jesus’ descent was an act of love. His incarnation was an act of solidarity. He came down to be with us. Before any of us could pipe up and say, “I’m with him,” Jesus came down to say he’s with us.
Gravity didn’t pull him to earth. Love did.
The Weight of Sin Brought Jesus Further Down
Love brought Jesus to earth so he could live an obedient life in the details of every moment. He came down from heaven to be with us. To live as an infant, toddler, teenager.
With his parents Jesus made the yearly trip from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. Imagine the preparations for that trip. As the oldest he might have had responsibilities for his younger siblings, corralling them while his parents packed provisions. The journey itself would have been exciting, traveling in caravan with relatives and neighbors. Stopping to camp and cook.
But John tells us about one time when Jesus seemed disobedient. Instead of rejoining the caravan bound for Galilee, Jesus stayed behind at the temple. When his parents finally located him three days later, they found him deep in conversation with the teachers of the Law. Exasperated, they scolded him for making them so worried (Luke 2:48).
If Jesus had sinned that day, disobeying his parents by remaining behind at the temple, all would be lost. His death could not have paid for our sins, it could only have paid for his own sin. Even one single sin would have disqualified Jesus from his role as our redeemer.
However, that particular day he wasn’t rebelling, but living as an obedient son of his heavenly Father. Now twelve years old, he stayed behind to learn God’s Law (Luke 2:46, 47).
If love brought Jesus down to earth, it also brought him further down. To the cross.
There he he bore the crushing weight of all our sins. Love held him suspended between heaven and earth, while our sins pulled him down, down. As if he were buried under miles of earth and rock. Or crushed against the ocean floor.
And love kept him there, until it was finished.
Defying Gravity: Jesus Rises From Death
It is here that Jesus’ timeline turns ours upside down. We grow and then grow up, spreading our wings to launch into college, careers. Bearing children, being promoted, gaining recognition, we jump from goal to goal, trying to keep going up, up, up.
But after a while gravity takes over our ascent.
We get passed over for the promotion. The accolades go to a junior colleague. The next thing we know we’re slipping down a slope of sagging skin, aging brain, brittle bones. When did this happen? How did this happen? Resisting gravity only works for trapeze artists and astronauts.
For the rest of us, gravity wins.
Unless through faith we enter Jesus’ timeline. Paul writes the facts of Jesus’ ascent:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he has buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3,4
What does Jesus’ story have to do with us? Sin couldn’t keep Jesus in the grave because he hadn’t actually sinned. But we have. However, since he himself bore our sins, he has already paid the price of death for each of us who believe. And because he was raised from death, we will be too.
The if/then statements are consistent.
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:17, 20
Jesus’ resurrection becomes the promise of our own resurrection from the death that awaits us.
If Christ, then me. Because Jesus defied the gravity of the grave, I will too.
What comes down, must go up.
Defying Gravity: Jesus Ascends to Heaven
But the good news doesn’t end with Jesus’ resurrection. No, it gets better and better.
For 40 days Jesus appeared to his followers in countless settings. Outside the empty tomb. In the garden. On the road. In the upper room. Some held him tight, others doubted. But to each one hard evidence was presented. See me. Touch me. Watch me eat some fish. Put your hand in my side.
Finally, on the 40th day after his resurrection, it was time for Jesus to finish going up. That day he ascended from earth into the clouds before their eyes. The Scriptures had foretold this part of his story hundreds of years before in Psalm 68. Paul picked up King David’s words about a victorious King and applied them to Jesus’ ascension:
“Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ ” Ephesians 4:8
At this point Paul pauses. He wants to make it clear that Jesus had to descend first, in order to ascend.
“(In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. Ephesians 4:9,10)”
I love that Paul put a central doctrine of our faith between parentheses. An apostolic aside–just to make sure we get it.
Why? Because Jesus is unique, the only one in history who came down in order to go up. The apostle John spells it out for us.
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” John 3:13
No one. Only Jesus. He descended to die for us and ascended to shower us with gifts from above. Every spiritual gift his church needs until the day he descends again with a shout of final triumph.
Because Jesus defied gravity, we will too. The grave will not hold us.